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In the circuses of Ancient Rome, exotic beasts were commonly pitted against each other. The contest of the lion against the tiger was a classic pairing and the betting usually favoured the tiger. A mosaic in the House of the Faun in Pompeii shows a fight between a lion and a tiger. At the end of the 19th century, the Gaekwad of Baroda arranged a fight between a lion and tiger before an audience of thousands. The Gaekwad favoured the lion, and as a result had to pay 37,000 rupees as the lion was mauled by the tiger.
Comparative profiles of the lion and tiger
The Amur or Siberian tiger is the largest subspecies of the Panthera genus, known to weigh up to 800 lbs (360 kg), while large African lions weigh up to 550 lbs (250 kg). Average weight males is 181 kg for African lion, 221.2 kg for Bengal tiger and 230 kg for Siberian tiger.
The tiger is a solitary hunter while the lion is a social animal, living and hunting in groups called prides. Though lions cooperate in hunting, the pride is very competitive during feeding. Weaker animals are pushed aside or chased off. The competitive nature of this social structure makes the lion more prone to fighting, especially males whose very lives depend (since the male isn't as specialized in hunting on the open plains) on getting a pride of their own. The tiger is very quick so keepers of captive tigers must take care to avoid a sudden attack.
In historical accounts where lions and tigers have fought in captivity, the tiger often came out the victor. The most recent accounts happened on March 2011, where a tiger at Ankara Zoo attacked a lion through its enclosure and killed the lion with a single paw swipe. "The tiger severed the lion's jugular vein in a single stroke with its paw, leaving the animal dying in a pool of blood", officials said. In 1857, a tiger at Bromwich Zoo broke into the cage of a lion and a fearful scene ensued: the lion's mane saved his head and neck from being injured, but the tiger succeeded in ripping up his stomach, and within a few minutes he was dead. In Coney Island Zoo, in 1909, a male tiger killed a male lion.
Owner of the Londolozi Reserve in South Africa John Varty said, "People always ask me which one is bigger? If a tiger and a lion had a fight, which one would win? Well, I've seen tigers crunch up a full-grown leopard tortoise like it was nothing. And lions try, but they just don't get it right. If there's a fight, the tiger will win, every time."
The animal rescue organisation Big Cat Rescue of Tampa, Florida answered, "While we would much prefer that people focus their thoughts on saving these magnificent animals than on who would win if a lion and tiger fight, the power of these two largest cats seems to raise this question in people's minds. While it would depend on the size, age and aggressiveness of the specific animals involved, generally tigers have a significant advantage."
The conservation charity Save China's Tigers stated, "Recent research indicates that the tiger is indeed stronger than the lion in terms of physical strength. Lions hunt in prides, so it would be in a group and the tigers as a solitary creature so it would be on its own. A tiger is generally physically larger than a lion. Most Experts would favour a Siberian and Bengal tiger over an African lion."
National Geographic Channel's documentary The Last Lions of Asia mentioned that a tiger has a weight advantage of 50 kilograms over a lion, and can kill a lion in a fight.